Remarkable Ukrainian-Scottish speaker

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Robert Shackleton sent in a link to this BBC Ukrainecast episode from 14 March, with the comment

Very distressing to listen to the interview, but also an interesting example of a native Slavic language speaker who has near-perfect Ayrshire speech.

The referenced interview starts at 6:20 in the BBC podcast — I've reproduced it below for convenience, and for protection against future bit rot:


  1. Rob Grayson said,

    March 24, 2022 @ 2:32 pm

    I certainly wouldn't describe Olga's accent as "near-perfect Ayrshire speech". I'd say it's Ayrshire inflected with what's clearly a foreign accent (which we know is Ukrainian). Broadly speaking, I'd say the vowel sounds are mostly authentic Ayrshire, the consonants less so.

  2. David Marjanović said,

    March 24, 2022 @ 3:35 pm

    the consonants less so

    Plenty of them are glottalized, though, and none seem to be palatalized (other than Mariupo[lʲ], unsurprisingly).

    And the intonation is very much Scottish.

  3. Daniel Barkalow said,

    March 24, 2022 @ 5:08 pm

    I think she's nailed all the ways that Ayrshire speech is different from RP English, without being better or worse at sounding like a native English speaker rather than a native Slavic speaker. I would guess she learned English in Scotland rather than by listening to the World Service in Ukraine. She's obviously a lot closer to perfect Ayrshire than the BBC reporter is.

  4. Philip Taylor said,

    March 24, 2022 @ 6:12 pm

    As a southern Briton, I am in no position to judge how close (or how far) Olga's accent is to near-perfect Ayrshire speech (qua Ayrshire, as opposed to more generic Scots speech), but if I were asked to identify the major influences on her accent I would say that they are 50:50 Scots and Bielo-Russian. Why Bielo-Russian and not Ukrainian ? Simply because I am far more familiar with the Bielo-Russian accent than I am with the Ukrainian, and to my ear she could easily be a Bielo-Russian Scots speaker.

  5. Terry K. said,

    March 24, 2022 @ 10:09 pm

    There are definitely spots where her speech reminds me of my Russian and Czech co-workers. But it does mostly sound Scottish/Irish (to my American ears).

  6. Philip Anderson said,

    March 25, 2022 @ 2:58 pm

    @Daniel Barkalow
    The prologue to the interview says she lives in Troon, which is in Ayrshire. Whereas the reporter is speaking BBC English.

  7. Dara Connolly said,

    March 25, 2022 @ 4:44 pm

    Some words, phrases and even longer stretches of speech just sound like a native speaker of English from Scotland, without any discernible foreign influence. I agree that there are some words where we hear the Ukrainian influence more clearly, but it's far less than 50%.

    I am reminded of a Spitting Image sketch where the actor who played "Taggart" in the eponymous police drama was asked what part of Scotland he was from, and answered "Transylvania". The joke was that the actor's Glasgow accent was inconsistent.

  8. Michael Watts said,

    March 27, 2022 @ 6:55 pm


    This highlights a couple of things I've been wondering about.

    To the best of my knowledge, Russian uses a system of 5 vowels which are represented as 10 orthographic vowels, depending on whether or not they are iotated. (Iotified?)

    A /a/ – Я /ja/
    Э /e/ – E /je/
    И /i/ – Й /j/
    O /o/ – Ё /jo/
    У /u/ – Ю /ju/

    For the most part these are represented straightforwardly in English transcriptions. (I think.) But the approach to the letter E is totally incoherent. The Russian name Екатерина may be represented as Ekaterina or Yekaterina. Евгения Медведева's wikipedia page is titled "Evgenia Medvedeva", but "Yevgeniya Medvedeva" is listed as an "alternative name". And this youtube video pronounces the name, to my ear, as if it were "evgenia medvyedeva" — obviously the narrator is aware that some of the vowels are iotated, but I would have expected more? The Russian name Лена is (as far as I know) always pronounced Lyena, matching the spelling, but always transcribed "Lena". And of course we have "Belarus".

    In my own idiolect, I would most likely have referred to "Belarussian", which mangles the pronunciation but preserves the parallel between Belarus and Russia (and the standard English spelling of "Belarus"). Wikipedia seems to prefer "Belarusian", which seems to have no advantages beyond a tight parallel to the spelling "Belarus". And "Bielo-Russian" has opted to transcribe the iotation that the normal English spelling would prefer to pretend doesn't exist. What's going on here? How did this schizophrenic approach come into being at all?

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